Thursday, April 27, 2006

Let's Talk About Sex

After all, it's the theme of the latest Big Fat Carnival.

I take a perverse delight in watching all those reality plastic surgery shows where (mostly) women mutilate their bodies in the hopes of attaining beauty and "self confidence." These shows are set in places like Miami where "looking good naked" and having breasts that stand at attention without the aid of a bra are considered the holy grail of bodily perfection. Because we live in a Christian-based society where the outward appearance of the body is supposed to mirror our moral purity (EDIT: I have been schooled. This is not [duh] a Christian belief. It's actually very Greek. I think I was in Christian-rant mode after reading that ridiculous "frozen orange juice makes you a whore" post. My apologies to my Christian readers who, like me, have taken art history classes and know better. I would argue, however, that denying the body food is historically a Christian practice illustrating one's devotion and sacrifice to God, as documented in Holy Feast, Holy Fast.), it makes sense that so many people would seek perfection of body and soul at the edge of a knife.

Oh how I love these shows. One of the more popular surgeries, now that gastric bypass has become so popular, is the excising of loose skin. You get women who've been anywhere from 250 to 500 lbs going into surgery and getting great slabs of themselves removed. The doctor will hold up this massive peice of belly flesh and jiggle it in front of the camera, then lay it out on a tray so you can look it over. When you get a hunk of your midsection taken out, they have to re-sew you a new "cute" belly button. While he's at it, one Miami surgeon also likes to take out some of the vaginal "fat" just above the vagina because "so many women hate it."

You know, I've noticed a lot of fat on my body, but never have I paused to think about whether or not my vagina is too fat.

Losing weight also means losing breast tissue. I know this well. I was a full C for some time, and now I'm very near a B. This leaves your breasts a bit droopy - you know, like you might be, say 26 or 36 and not 15. To "fix" this "problem" many women also go in for breast lifts and implants at the same time they excise their "extra" skin.

They come out looking pretty damn good, depending on the surgeon. In a year or two, most of their scars are supposed to fade, and it'll be like they were never fat or droopy at all. They'll be perfect plastic people. This "fixing" of the body's "imperfections" is supposed to give them tons of self confidence and alter the way they walk into a room, the way they think of themselves, their SAT scores... Oh, sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Here's the secret that every fat girl should understand right now:

You're the same person at a size 2, 12, or 22. Losing the weight doesn't mean you automatically have more self confidence or a better swagger. These are things you have to work on every bit as hard as anything else in your life. Getting lipo or a breast lift doesn't make you any more interesting at cocktail parties, though we sure wish it would.

I ditched 20 lbs between 8th and 9th grade because my hormones were raging and I was tired of not having a boyfriend. Nobody looked at me. The guys who were interested in me were too terrified to be more than friends. That was their loss, not mine. But at the time, I didn't know that. I acted like a fat girl. I acted ashamed of the way I looked. I believed I wasn't attractive.

So that's the way the world looks at you.

Ditching 20 lbs, I thought, was what made more people look. However, it may just have been high school. Cause lots of people a lot heavier than me were getting laid too.

I was a little terrified about sex not so much because of the pain or the emotional crap (I'm not terribly emotional on the surface) but because I'd grown up believing I was too fat to be attractive. I watched tv. I knew what "beautiful" women looked like. I believed that wasn't me, and because that wasn't me, I had no value.

This was probably when I first started becoming a little obsessed about weight. Me, my brother and my sister had always had weight "problems." Several asshat relatives pointed out these "weight problems" to us and our parents all the time. One Aunt and Uncle went so far, I believe, to say that raising us the way my parents had was tantamout to child abuse, and they would *never* raise *their* children that way.

I started getting weird about food. I'd eat once or twice a day that first year of highschool, and not very much. It was typical highschool fare - a slimfast for breakfast, nothing for lunch, a cheeseburger or nachos for dinner while we worked at the theater. Sometimes dinner went out all together and I ate lunch instead. I never really stopped eating - I've tried being anorexic, and it just never worked for me.

It did, however, work for my sister. She stopped eating, blacked out in someone's kitchen one time, and dropped 100 lbs. She put most of it back on when she got pregnant, lost a little after she had the baby, and has been fighting with her weight every day since. She was so happy to get male attention when she dropped weight that she went a little crazy, and some crazy things occured.

Hence, I have a nephew.

heh heh

Which is the other big problem when you raise somebody in a society that tells them they have no worth until they lose weight - when they lose the weight, they believe all the hype, and start looking for their self worth and validation in the penis (or, in the case of one guy I know - the pussy). Dropping weight and increasing one's pool of sexual partners in a rather irresponsible way can often coincide. The problem is, you use the sexual partners to bolster your sense of worth, and that never works.

You've got to get that somewhere else.

That's why I spent five years single.

My brother lost weight about the same time - moving into highschool. He dropped 30 lbs just switching from Pepsi to Diet Pepsi. He dropped another 20 or so by running 3-6 miles every day. He continues running 3-6 miles every day, and is now quite lean. Growing into his 6'0 height helped a lot, too.

We were fat kids.

All three of us. The last time I was at my current weight, I told myself that I would be happy as soon as I lost 20 more pounds. I just had to lose that last 20 pounds.

This is a great way to make sure you're never happy with your body.

My weight obsessions meant my weight has spiked to as high as nearly 270 lbs when I was 18 (depression, bad relationship, being on the pill). Spiked again in South Africa at 230-240 (binge eating, stress). And it comes back down to my set point of 175-180 when I stop obsessing about food (like now).

And still, I have to work a little to stay here. I have to maintain my weight routine, eat enough protein, and pay attention.

Cause I'm a fat girl. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that. I can beat the crap out of a punching bag a lot better than Paris Hilton can.

So, what happens when you rocket up and down this weight rollercoaster for most of your life?

The same thing that happens to those gastric bypass patients -

You carry your history on your body.

Loose skin, stretch marks. If you get it together when you're young, you may be able to tighten some of this up by weight lifting, but the stretch marks don't go away. Believe me. Rub whatever you want on them. You carry them around. They look like they hurt. They're physical scars. When you lean over, the skin bunches and sags, and everything droops.

My sister, after she'd lost her 100 lbs said, "I feel like I've ruined my body."

My brother has watched my father have a heartattack because of his lack of exercise and bad eating habits. That's not the life my brother wants. It gives him a lot of energy to run those 6 miles every day.

I'm not too keen on dying young either, or falling and breaking my hip, which is what my maternal grandmother did several years ago. Hence my obsession with weight lifting. It's one of the best ways to build and preserve bone mass.

The asthetics are a nice bonus.

But losing weight doesn't mean that I look like Paris Hilton. I won't be putting out a sex tape.

But I don't avoid sex either.

High weight, I realized, didn't mean I had less of a sex drive. Sure, I felt worse about myself - but a lot of that was media talking. The same people who were attracted to me at a 12 were attracted to me at a 22. The only one who had a problem with the weight was me.

I'm still considered a fat girl by current standards, and a rather ruined fat girl at that. I have a lot of body history. I've got lots of odd bumps and scars. My flesh is not smooth and unblemished. Everything I've been through, you can see it on my body.

And when I look at those surgery shows, I wonder if that's what's really going on: we're trying to escape our history, who we are, what we've been through, as if erasing that from our bodies will make us as smooth and unblemished as our skin.

We can pretend the times we believed were "bad" never happened. We can pretend we were somebody else. We can believe that no one loved us until we excised our history from our bodies.

It's such a wonderful fantasy.

It's wonderful because it gives us the illusion of starting over. It gives us the illusion of youth and confidence without going through the personal journey that most of us need in order to achieve that. It doesn't make us smarter or teach us new skills. You get the Christian-martyr pain out of it, and the fake baptizmal rebirth; rebirth through pain.

But you don't learn how to kickbox. You don't learn French. You don't become an expert pianist.

Maybe getting this "new" body will inspire you to be better. Maybe so. And if so, that's great.

But what inspires me to be better is looking at all that history, knowing where I've come from, seeing how far I've gone and how much further I have to go.

Because I have other scars, too. I have scars on my fingers from sword fighting in high school theater. I have a scar from when my cousin threw glass at me when I was eight. I have scars from when I tried to throw my cat into my wading pool. I've still got that goddamn scar from the first time I tried to shave my legs.

And I don't find those scars any more or less attractive than my stretch marks, my slightly droopy breasts, the extra skin I can pull away from my arms.

For all my imperfections, I haven't lacked for partners. The trick is, I only wanted the partners when I felt confident in myself.

I don't believe that excising my history would make me any more confident. Perhaps it would strip something away, but all of the stripping away would be external.

If you want to start over, start again, that starts from somewhere else, somewhere deep - a place you can't reach with a knife.

13 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Mitch said...

Wow. You're a great writer.

This topic hits home, as I'm in school and heavier than most of the other girls.

Thanks for the moral booster.

La Gringa said...

Hmmmm.. I agree and disagree with you. But first off - dude, you TOTALLY deserve whatever the cat did to you. That was mean!

Okay, the body image thing. I too have always fought with my weight. I was a ridiculously thin kid, bony, gawky, cadaverous. I didn't eat any more or any less than I do now. I just couldn't gain weight. When I hit puberty, my weight started packing on, and by the time I was a senior in high school I was up around 200 pounds. I was active, played softball, etc. Didn't eat alot.

Then I discovered cocaine and plummeted back down to 105 pounds when I was in my early twenties. The cocaine didn't get me high; it kept me from totally succumbing to depression. But I looked like a cadaver again, so I stopped using the coke. And went back up to 250 or so.

The past couple of years, I've been working out, lifting weights and walking a lot. I don't diet, though. I like food and eat when I'm hungry. Which, surprisingly, isn't often unless I work out a lot. Sometimes I have to remind myself to eat.

What I did notice is that the loose skin thing? Well, it goes away on its own. As long as you lose weight slowly enough and keep exercising while you do it, it just gets re-absorbed into the body. But if you hacve a gastric bypass - which is an operation that far too many doctors are willing to do without thinking - you lose weight too fast and your body can't adjust. It wasn't meant to. My doctor told me once that the surgery to remove lose stomach skin is extremely dangerous, and can cause all sorts of permanent damage to the muscles of your abdomen. Not worth it!

I worked out at a gym with a sixty year old man who lost 120 pounds over the course of a year just by walking on a treadmill every day twice a day for thirty minutes. He had no loose skin at all.

Re attractiveness of big women: I asked a guy once why he wasn't attracted to larger women and he gave it a lot of thought and finally told me that he often thought larger women were very pretty, but that his chief concern was that he often found they led too sedentary a lifestyle to do anything that he wanted to do for fun. This guy was into rock climbing, running and kayaking. He didn't think a fat woman would be able to keep up with him.

It was an interesting observation, because I've thought the same thing myself on occasion. I like bigger women, women with some meat on their bones, and some curves. And I've dated some big women that I've met through personal ads. But in each case, it turned out to be a variation of the same kind of person: a woman who was very overweight, and was inactive. Women who had a hard time even taking a walk with me. Women who liked to stay in and watch TV rather than get out and do something active. Women who were defensive about their weight.

And that's simply not attractive. Not to me, and I suspect not to anyone else.

But my first love, the woman I lost my heart to when I was nineteen? She was a big girl. A powerful woman, a size sixteen, five foot eight of pure muscle and strength. She was sexy as hell, even at 200 pounds.

There is fat, and then there is big. Kameron, if you are a size 12 and weigh 175 pounds, then you ain't fat, honey. You're a big ball of muscle. There is a huge difference.

I don't mind being a big girl. I like to lift weights and I like being strong and being able to lift my best friend's girlfriend over my head at parties. It makes me feel great.

But I never deceived myself that being simply *fat* was a good thing. It isn't. It will kill you before your time. It will degenerate your joints and bones. It will destroy your arteries and your heart. It will cause you breathing problems. And nobody should be telling young women that being fat is a positive thing.

Fat is not a feminist issue - it's a cardio-vascular issue. It's an osteoarthritis issue. It's a pulmonary issue. It's a health issue.

I'm not talking about twenty or thirty extra pounds either. That's pretty much just a nice cushion for a lover some day. :-)

I'm talking true obesity, kids being so overweight that they can't walk for a mile, or can't walk up a flight of stairs without losing their breath.

I think the problem lies in the obsession with diet and food intake as opposed to simply teaching kids at an early age to be active all the time, and parents being too quick to let the TV babysit for them. I get thrilled when I see my nieces and nephews riding skateboards, and scooters and roller blades and playing baseball and just runnning around outside. That's the best way to teach kids to stay in shape.

Unsane said...

"The great epochs of our life are the occasions when we gain the courage to rebaptise our evil qualities as our best qualities". (Nietzsche BGE 116)

Kameron Hurley said...

La Gringa -

I agree with a lot of what you're saying. What I worry about - putting so much emphasis on the "it's the fat that makes you unhealthy" idea - is that what you end up with are:

1) anorexics who get down from their "normal" weight of 130-140 to 93 lbs by starving themselves and congratulate themselves and are congratulated by everyone else because they're so "good" and self-sacrificing and now believe that they're "healthy" because they "aren't fat." Which also leads to sneering looks from the 93 lb women toward the 200 lb rowers, thinking that because they're thinner, they are morally superior.

2) encouraging "dieting" by pounding on the "FAT IS EVIL" button too long can result in a binge and purge cycle like the one I was stuck in for many years. I'd spend a week or a month being "good" and eating very little and then pig out and be "bad" and feel guilty, so then I'd be "good," then my body would be deprived, so I'd binge again.

And there are many circles where "an extra 20 or 30 pounds" is considered just as bad in terms of "being good" or "being healthy" as an extra hundred. I do believe that the obsession with dieting is what keeps so many people fat and unhappy. Again: according to the BMI, I'm overweight. I'm unhealthy. It's why every time I got to this weight - which is, in fact, a healthy weight for me - I was still unhappy and trying to lose "that last 20 pounds." Because then I'd be at a "normal" weight.

But the truth is, 175-180 *is* a "normal" weight for me. And I think more people would be healthier and happier and less obsessed if they chose the right weights for themselves - not neccessarily the ones that get handed down from a generic chart. It's just going to get frustrating. You'll end up being hungry and irritable all the time, and get weird about food. I weighed more and was a lot more unhappy when I was eating *less* than I am now. All that muscle eats a lot, I've learned, and if you *do* want to be strong and healthy, you've gotta eat.

But the "you've gotta eat" idea isn't preached in most dieting circles. You're told to eat less and exercise more. And in the long run, that may work for pure weight loss, but maintaining that when you're always hungry is a bitch, and then you start riding the weight rollercoaster where you lose a bunch, gain it all back plus more, lose a bunch, gain it all back plus more...

I would also argue that there are plenty of "skinny" women who are also sedentary :) And I've had at least two martial arts instructors who weren't traditionally "thin" but could kick my ass.

I suppose I'm really worried about the emphasis being so much on "losing weight" instead of "eating well and being active."

Just because a woman is 93 pounds doesn't mean she's healthy (and it doesn't mean she's *not* healthy, of course - there are some people who are fit at a low weight. Jenn's healthy at a size 4. I would be dying of cancer at a size 4).

What I'd like to see is a concentration not on the *symptoms* of being sedentary and eating junk, but on encouraging people to get moving and eat right. I think it would help a lot of people with low levels of depression, improve self-esteeem (being strong and not hungry can do that), improve said cardiovascular fitness, etc.

And I also acknowledge that people who eat right and excercise *may still be "fat"* by our current standards. *And that's OK.*

If a person who's 400 lbs thinks she has to be 120 in order to be healthy and their set point is more like 200, s/he's probably going to go nuts trying to reach a random number on a scale instead of working at being stronger and feeling better (if s/he's not already able to climb stairs without being winded and perform basic tasks without wheezing).

And, of course, there are going to be people on drugs or with medical conditions who will always be 400 lbs, but by golly, they can walk around the block every day and feel better for it, even if the weight never comes off.

I just don't like the idea that physical mass is an indicater of moral strength. There's too much else at play.

ian the kinda scrawny guy said...

I've never been the perfect specimen of male sexuality but I learned a long time ago that that doesn't matter. It's all attitude. If you're happy, confident, and have that certain swagger people notice. And it's fun.

Something that just kinda came to me a long time ago. Some people have fun. Really have fun and not just look that way. Others worry about how they look and what people think. Well I have fun now. Give it a try if you aren't. What have you got to lose?

Ramblin' Rabbit said...

I stumbled on to your blog following links from links and I love what you wrote here. Recently I read "Wasted," which had some really good insights in to eating disorders and society in general.

Thanks for the thoughts to mull over  

Posted by ramblinrabbit

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